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Pickled, Potted, and Canned: How the Art and Science of Food Preserving Changed the World Hardcover – August 28, 2001

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (August 28, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743216334
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743216333
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.1 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,879,872 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

We're apt to ignore the importance of food preservation, but its significance can't be overestimated. In Pickled, Potted, and Canned, Sue Shephard tells the fascinating and unexpectedly stirring story of the development of preserved, portable food--a history full of human ingenuity and mastery that limns our evolution from hunter-gathers, dependent upon food availability for sustenance, to "season cheaters" able to take nourishment when and where we wanted to and thus discover the world. Food preservation's history is the story of civilization itself, and in lively prose readers discover the way the world was shaped by such common yet extraordinary techniques as drying, salting, smoking, and, most recently, canning and freezing.

In 1800, Shepard writes, archaeologists working in Egypt discovered the body of a baby perfectly preserved in millennia-old honey, a practice stretching back in time and employed by the embalmers of Alexander the Great, also buried in honey. Sugar preservation, we are reminded, is one of the major techniques of food keeping--mixed with fruit, sugar produces jams, preserves, candied fruit, and other time-defying food--and Shepard traces its history from ancient Greece to the present. Similarly, she explores other techniques including salting, responsible for keeping meat and fish like cod palatable and at the ready; fermenting, to which we owe soy sauce and other mainstays; and drying, which gave us pasta and "ever-fresh" breads such as hardtack and matzo. From ancient but ever-evolving preservation methods like these to modern dehydration, which helps produce food that sustains astronauts, the book details simultaneously world-changing skills and culture in the making. --Arthur Boehm

From Publishers Weekly

Before the advent of chemically preserved foods, people relied on ingenious natural preserving methods to survive winters. Shephard (coauthor, United Tastes of America), the creator of several food television programs in England, chronicles the history of food preservation in detail, from salt-cured pork, fermented soybeans (an Asian staple), fish buried in sand (in Africa and Northern Europe) and wines made from rice, to Bird's Eye dinners and freeze-dried astronaut food. Shephard argues that food preservation has been integral to human progress, allowing us to advance from subsistence hunter-gatherers to explorers and traders who can travel the globe and even outer space. While her focus is food, other interesting tidbits emerge: in 1800, archeologists found and consumed a jar of honey in Egypt, then discovered the body of a small baby preserved inside. (In fact, from the Neolithic era onward, Aryans, Sumerians, Babylonians and Cretans often buried their dead in honey.) One of the book's strongest sections covers explorations. The preservation of food was vital to early explorers like Marco Polo, who needed supplies to last through long, arduous journeys. (On one American Northwest expedition in 1801, Lewis and Clark brought "193 pounds of portable soup, twenty barrels of flour, fourteen barrels of parched corn, forty-two barrels of salt pork, two hundred pounds of beef tallow, and fifty pounds of pig lard stored in whisky barrels.") Shephard's straightforward tone and accessible scholarship make for a thorough and intriguing history. B&w photos and illus. Agent, Jane Turnbull.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By wordtron on February 6, 2002
Format: Hardcover
A refreshing (if such a word can be used for a book about food preservation) and fascinating look at history -- all history -- as seen from inside a jar. In this lively melange of history and food writing, Shephard argues that the ability to preserve food liberated humans from the anxieties of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle. According to Shephard, the development of portable, preserved food enabled the great explorers to travel into the unknown and gradually map the planet, thereby facilitating the conquest of new territories and the creation of routes for the expansion of trade and the exchange of knowledge and culture that opened up our world. It also allowed us to expand our daily menu from the limited and repetitious range of our ancestors to the multicultural, international choices we enjoy today. Weaving together the stories of the inventors and key developments of food preservation in a richly detailed narrative that spans centuries and continents, this is a juicy blend of social history, popular science, and testament to man's ongoing curiosity and inventiveness.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Jeremy Fletcher on October 15, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Decent information on the different methods of preserving foods throughout history. The main problem I have, however, is the lack of footnotes -- Shephard cites many interesting anecdotes. Unfortunately, many of these cry out "urban myth" to me. An example:

"Louis XIII of France loved [dried mushrooms'] woodland scent so much that he lay on his deathbed in 1643 threading mushrooms onto strings for drying."

A good story, yes. Actual historical fact? It seems unlikely, and without documentation I can't judge the source material.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on May 10, 2003
Format: Hardcover
In this concise yet detailed history of man's attempts to provide food for times of need, Ms.Shephard describes all the usual, and some very unusual methods of preserving food.
In chapters devoted to each particular method, she details how, by trial and error and by observation, people have discovered ways of extending the life of foodstuffs well past the natural sell-by date.
This leads to the means by which explorers could subsist independently of the land or sea they were travelling in, thus expanding the boundaries of trade and colonisation.
However, some of the preserving methods brought their attendant disadvantages, such as vitamin deficiencies, like scurvy or pellagra - the ways of combating these are also dealt with in the book.
Ms.Shephard writes in a comfortable, informative style that is neither dumbing-down, nor patronising, but with clear, logical progression within the particular subject - with the occasional illuminating aside to spice things up.
Drawing heavily on historical accounts, she has meticulously researched the subject and presented us with a fine addition to any amateur historian's library.
A very worthwhile read *****
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 24, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"Pickled, Potted and Canned" is just not very interesting. It's basically just a compendium of ways that food is preserved, written in a fairly uninteresting way. It seems to just go on and on without any story or purpose. Let me make a comparison to "Cod" by Kurlansky. "Cod" tells the story of the New England fishing fleet and how preserved cod affected trade and the growth of US maritime strength. "Cod" has a unifying theme which holds the reader's interest.
There's no story, theme, or technical depth to "Pickled, Potted and Canned". Within each section, it just repeats over and over the fact that certain foods were preserved with the subject of the section (drying, salt, sugar, etc.). It doesn't discuss how the preserving material works to preserve the food, or how preserving fits into the flow of world history. If you're interested in how preserving works, get "On Food and Cooking" by McGee. It's not focused on preserving but you'll get more than in "Pickled, Potted and Canned". If you're interested in how the development of food preservation affected world history, I don't know what to recommend to you. Maybe another reviewer can make a suggestion.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on March 25, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Food preserving changed the course of civilization by making it possible to travel, explore, and survive. Pickled, Potted and Canned reveals the history of food preserving techniques, exploring how early preservation techniques changed history, cultures, and modern ideas of food and eating. From milk products to sugar and pickling, this examines how preservation techniques were fostered.
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Format: Hardcover
For anyone that wants to know the history of food preservation I recommend this book to them! It covers areas in all over the world and proves that the trend of canning is not just a new fangled idea. If you really care about the preservation process and enjoy the history you will like this book. I can in my kitchen at least 3-4 times a week and we also preserve in other ways as well.
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More About the Author

Sue Shephard was born in London and spent much of her life there until she and her family moved to Bristol in 1995. She was an award-winning television producer and a commissioning editor at Channel 4 until she switched to being a full-time writer. Several of her TV series explored the culture and history of food and gardening, so it was natural for her to dig deeper in this popular area when she became a writer. UNITED TASTES OF AMERICA was published by Ebury in 1997 to accompany the TV series. PICKLED POTTED & CANNED, a history of food preserving, was published in 2000 by Headline in the UK and Simon & Schuster in the USA. It had terrific reviews and received the Andre Simon Special Award in 2001. SEEDS OF FORTUNE - A Gardening Dynasty about a Victorian horticultural nursery and their plant hunters was published by Bloomsbury in both the UK and USA in 2003 to considerable acclaim.
Sue's latest book is THE SURPRISING LIFE OF CONSTANCE SPRY: a biography of the great flower arranger. It is published by Macmillan in April 2010 and has already attracted considerable press attention with author appearances at several literary festivals.
Sue is currently working on a biography of Dorothy Hartley, the food and agricultural historian.
She lives in Bristol with her husband Ben Shephard who is also a writer and historian. His book THE LONG ROAD HOME has also just been published.